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A tension in RM's Campaign Law

Staffan

Legend
Excessive detail can also make it harder to fit your character into a setting. The kind of detail I like to see is "The city is dominated by dozens of noble houses, each of which wields a lot of influence over a sector of the economy. Most of these houses have a structure that looks something like this. Here are three of these houses described in a fair amount of detail."

But instead, you get things like the 2e boxed set Waterdeep: City of Splendors, which has basic information on all 76 noble houses, including their leader, the leader's consort, the leader's heir, their trades, and in many cases a whole bunch of important people in the house. That's the kind of detail that feels more suffocating than inspiring.
 

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Campbell

Relaxed Intensity
Makes sense to me. During chargen, there are things the GM knows about the world that the players don't, and there are things neither of them knows. If it's the latter, the people at the table can figure something out. There's a danger if the GM knows something that'd change a player's build, either to literally undermine it or to ... make some other choice better for that character.

That about right?

Exactly, although I was more thinking about like story elements in character backstory here. When you are trying to setup stuff for the GM to use that you think will lead to compelling narrative down the line, but what you don't know makes it considerably more lame. Or just the act of trying to think about situation stuff that could add to play and negotiating over it without a clear idea about implications and stuff.
 

Staffan

Legend
I’m currently reading the Heart RPG, and one of the bits of advice the book offers to GMs is to not be coy. Part of play is for each player to select two Beats, which are like goals for what they want/expect to happen and which will earn them an advance if achieved; the GM should be working in opportunities for these Beats during play. The players select their beats at the end of each session so the GM is able to consider them during any prep he may do in between (which in Heart is pretty minimal).
Trinity Continuum has a similar thing. As part of character creation, each player determines two short-term Aspirations and one long-term, which are the player's goals for their character – not necessarily the character's own goals. Ideally, these should be phrased as something you do, not something you don't do (e.g. "Don't fight your way out of a situation" is a bad aspiration, but "Solve a situation by talking" is a good one." Achieving your short-term aspiration nets you 1 XP, or 2 XP for a long-term one (but once you have achieved a long-term aspiration, you can't get those XP again until everyone has achieved theirs). If all PCs achieve short-term aspirations in the same session, everyone gets a bonus XP.
 

prabe

Aspiring Lurker (He/Him)
Supporter
And to respond more directly to the OP ...

I don't think there has to be a tension between a more-or-less complete setting and room for characters. My own approach is to leave space for things to be or for people to have come from. I like to see what people have in mind, and I've made suggestions, but I don't think I've hard-vetoed anyone's character biography (though there is at least one I've grumbled about some ...).

I think there are some players will be inspired by the limitations of an "existing" world, and I think there will be inspired by the equivalent of a blank slate.
 

Hiya!


Because back in the early 80's any "tension" between differing desires was handled like any other social interaction; both parties talked about their perspective and they came to a mutual compromise. There was no need for any specific "ways to handle it" written in the rulebook. This social skill was something that everyone learned growing up and going to school.

I'm NOT going to make any more comments about it other than this: I find it increasingly perplexing and difficult to have a reasonable conversation with a lot of 'younger folk' nowadays due to...from my perspective...a complete lack of the ability to accept that someone might have a different thought, preference or idea about something. ... this is, I believe, why you see things written in rule books about how to "deal with different perspectives"; because too many people simply don't have a clue how to do it.

^_^

Paul L. Ming

With no offense intended, if you think it always--or necessarily even usually--worked out that tidy in the past, you lived in a fortunate bubble. I saw any number of cases where people either didn't feel they could talk about it, or where one or both found that there was no mutual compromise that was really satisfactory, but for any number of reasons they'd soldier on anyway.

This isn't anything really new, except people are trying actually approach it in some kind of a systematic way.
 

Trinity Continuum has a similar thing. As part of character creation, each player determines two short-term Aspirations and one long-term, which are the player's goals for their character – not necessarily the character's own goals. Ideally, these should be phrased as something you do, not something you don't do (e.g. "Don't fight your way out of a situation" is a bad aspiration, but "Solve a situation by talking" is a good one." Achieving your short-term aspiration nets you 1 XP, or 2 XP for a long-term one (but once you have achieved a long-term aspiration, you can't get those XP again until everyone has achieved theirs). If all PCs achieve short-term aspirations in the same session, everyone gets a bonus XP.

Yeah, the Beats in Heart are definitely player selected. Some consist of things the character would likely not want to have happen.
 

pming

Legend
Hiya!
With no offense intended, if you think it always--or necessarily even usually--worked out that tidy in the past, you lived in a fortunate bubble. I saw any number of cases where people either didn't feel they could talk about it, or where one or both found that there was no mutual compromise that was really satisfactory, but for any number of reasons they'd soldier on anyway.

This isn't anything really new, except people are trying actually approach it in some kind of a systematic way.
As I have aged more and more...yes. I most definitely see that I have lived a relatively "charmed" life...at lest insofar as human interaction is concerned. Not perfect, but I get the feeling I'm in the top 1% for "friends, family and social interactions".

^_^

Paul L. Ming
 

Galandris

Foggy Bottom Campaign Setting Fan
This isn't really my experience.

For instance, in my first RM campaign a player wanted to play a mystic whose childhood was spent herding sheep (or maybe goats?), and whose mentor lived in a large hollow tree and was in hiding, a refugee from some sort of mages' power struggle.

This is an example (more detailed, though) of what I call a generic background. Not that it's not interesting or lacking in hook, with an established NPC the player will care for and who might be in need of help (either because he'll be targetted directly, but that might come across as adversarial GM'ing to the player, or because his need to keep hiding will prevent him for doing certain things directly, causing him to ask help from his charge). That's great, but I can fit that as easily in Dark Sun, Forgotten Realms or Eberron: the prerequisite from the settings are only the existence of trees, animal husbandy and a conflict between wizards somewhere in the setting, none of whiich are outlandish. With existing knowledge of the setting, the players could have tied his mentor to a specific faction holding supernatural power, providing a reason to hide for the mentor and helping the GM to desing the first adventure.


In my first 4e D&D campaign, one of the players came up with a very intricate background for his dwarf PC, and another player a very intricate background for his refugee human PC, both of which established significant aspects of the setting.

In my first Burning Wheel campaign, one of the players established as his PC's overarching goal the freeing of his brother form possession by a balrog. There was also enough character backstory to explain the basics of how this possession came about.

I think that when players have these sorts of ideas/aspirations for their PCs, there is the possibility of a clash with the sort of detailed setting design advised in the RM books mentioned in the OP.

This two examples are interesting and I see where the conflict might be. In your OP, you mentionned "what if the idea of the character schooling clashes with the seting?" Let's imagine a player who imagine being from a large city, attending an art academy, and going out to see the wonders of the world to find inspiration for writing the greatest epic ballad ever and be crowned Prince of Poets. Problem, in the setting design, the GM had decided upon a pre-agricultural world, with hunter gatherer tribes wandering the land instead of a "more traditional" faux-middle ages. How to reconcile these?

First, establish what's important for the player and the GM. In both the setting and the background. I am partial toward communal character creation during session 0 and I ask the players to include a reason to actually work with the other players (to avoid the "why exactly should I care about the destruction of the city by an evil lich? I am a wood dwelling elf for Corellon's sake!" problem). This is also the occasion to distinguish "red lines" and things that can be changed. In your example with the cursed brother, maybe the clash would be with balrogs (because in your setting idea, they don't exist, say) but the player would be happy to replace balrog with the Wild Witches of Woe that you established as an evil power group in your setting, or maybe the balrog thing is very important and you didn't plan of having balrog but don't object to them being in the setting (potentially made to fit by being invoked by the Subterranean Sorcerers of Slaughter that you also described in your setting. The tension only subsists if "red lines" collide, and not everything in the background or setting is "red line" material.

Let's imagine the character concept of the urban bard is all "red line" to the player of the example about schools

Solution 1 : DM caves in, and suddenly there is a capital sitting in the middle of the pasture. This is a setting defining change. How does it survive without farming? Does it taxes hunter gatherers (ransom would be a better word)? If they can do that, it means they can threaten everyone around them... are they governed by a council of powerful mages that could drop asteroids on the surrounding tribes if they failed to supply appropriate tributes? Resolve those with the players: will he accept to be from a distrusted, exploitative metropolis whose name is spoken with a mix of fear, hate and wonder by the rest of the setting? If not, will he accept to be a stranger in a strange land, having just arrived from a fabled continent (that wasn't detailed in the setting) so the city can be from a farming culture far away from the setting center? There are refining opportunities that can make it work, if the GM has detailed only a partial setting. I concur with the advice given above not to detail 100% of the setting, to make way for some adjustment and enables this type of solution.

Solution 2 : players caves in. If given an overview of the setting and seeing all the other players are creating background from the Three Bear tribe, he'll change his idea and make his bard looking to explore the world an idea for another time, or retrofit some themes to mesh with the other players and the setting. This will be easier if he's knowledgeable about the setting and sometime this solution is implemented before a tension can be seen, because the imagination of the player will take into account the limit of "this is an hunter-gatherer setting with neolithic technology, I can't be a smith's daughter!".


Solution 3 (the worst, but sometimes unavoidable): the road block. when everything is red lines, because the player not only imagined his bard, but also seventeen collegues studying at the bard academy, five teachers feuding with each other over minutiae as only academic conflict can, an twenty-three family members and dependant all livingin the city? Well... then it's probably not the campaign to be in this time. It's not necessarily a failure. Everyone is there to enjoy the game, and if enjoyment can't be found in the shared story to be told, sometime the best way is not to be part of this story. If one doesn't like super hero and the DM wants to run Mutant and Mastermind, there is no solution.The same divide can appear within a genre sometime, but it's rarer. In my experience, it's not often that a background will be impossible to fit if both parties (GM and player) are actively looking to compromise. Solution 2 can happen naturally, solution 1 can be implemented if the world isn't 100% described (and it's never the case ; it's more often a sign of a DM inflexible in his view of the setting...) but if both sides are set in stone (let's say because the DM wanted to have the player be the one to be the first to bring agriculture and cities to their tribe, becoming worshipped as the creator gods ever after, and the player was dead set on hailing from a very common urban environment) and they won't find both enjoyment in the changed story, then one of them should leave (usually the player if he's the only one not interested in the prospective story, sometime the GM if his setting is so constraining that players all fear a railroad).
 

pemerton

Legend
And to respond more directly to the OP ...

I don't think there has to be a tension between a more-or-less complete setting and room for characters.
I was talking about a more specific tension, though, between preparing a setting in the sort of detail set out, and then inviting players to write the sorts of character backgrounds referenced.

I agree that the tension I describe doesn't have to arise, in that the player might not come up with anything that collides with what the GM has decided. But they might.
 

prabe

Aspiring Lurker (He/Him)
Supporter
I was talking about a more specific tension, though, between preparing a setting in the sort of detail set out, and then inviting players to write the sorts of character backgrounds referenced.

I agree that the tension I describe doesn't have to arise, in that the player might not come up with anything that collides with what the GM has decided. But they might.
I would add, in a non-arguing way, that the GM could also explicitly leave (or make) room for players to add things via their character backgrounds. I don't see that as conflicting with at least parts of the setting being detailed. I guess your phrasing implies to me it must be the player who ... works to avoid collision, and I don't think it's impossible for the GM to do so.

But that's not really responsive the RM rules you've cited. If the GM is expecting to write up the setting in detail, and the player is expecting to write up their character background in detail, there's at least a potential for tension, there.
 

Exactly, although I was more thinking about like story elements in character backstory here. When you are trying to setup stuff for the GM to use that you think will lead to compelling narrative down the line, but what you don't know makes it considerably more lame. Or just the act of trying to think about situation stuff that could add to play and negotiating over it without a clear idea about implications and stuff.
Fundamentally, player backgrounds are equally capable of rendering a character great or lame...
The detailed setting is sometimes a help or hindrance...
I've seen players take the Waterdeep set and tie themselves in just below the listed characters, and feel great...
... but they had to work to fit to it.

Many of the deep lore games have this same issue: Lots of details that hardly ever intersect with PCs - in either direction.

This was common for the early deep lore games - RuneQuest, post-1981 Traveller, HârnMaster, Rolemaster's Shadow World...

Lots of lovely detail to read... very little to use.

Player backgrounds, especially when not done jointly, often suffer similarly - Hooks that the GM has no interest in, no ties to the other PCs, and all too often, nothing shared with other players; even when shared, often nothing aimed at other players to hook into.

I wondered why my last few Traveller games didn't feel right... this thread got me thinking.
I used to ask players for their means of knowing each other... often, it was "We Hit outprocessing the same day."
My last two, I had to supply a why. The one before? I didn't exactly care for the why they chose, because it was a poor fit for the setting.

As a GM, I need to remember, "I am a player, too," and also to remind all to give each other hooks to hang stories off of. Also, remind players not to build big backstories because small ones are easier to make interesting use of.
 


Voadam

Legend
Some recent thread took me back to Rolemaster's Campaign Law. I'm quoting from my 1989 version of Character Law & Campaign Law, but am pretty confident the text goes back to 1984 and the original release of Campaign Law.

Here is some stuff about world building, under the heading Design the Campaign Setting (p 104):

Design should flow from the general to the specific. Construct the general parameters first, and then build specific concepts using the general framework. The design of a world setting would progress as follows:​
1. The World​
a. Gods, the Comsos, and the World​
b. Physical Landscape . . .​

2. The Inhabitants . . .​
b (iii) Social Beings[/indnet]​

3. The Cultures . . .​
4. The Events​
a, The Dynamics of Politics and Culture​
b. Natural Events​
c. Political Events.​

5. The Non-Player Characters . . .​

Not long after this, on pp 104-5, is the following, under the headings "Start the Players with a Rich Background" and "Start the Game with a Manageable Yet Challenging Adventure":

A. Ask each player about their desires for their character. Maintaining reason and play balance, attempt to incorporate them into their PC background.​
B. Based on the player's wishes, game needs, and the PC's race and profession, help choose an appropriate cultural background for the PC.​
1. Give the PC (sic) a handout or talk about their cultural roots, and the manner of their folk.​
2. Inform the PC of any overall goals or problems associated with their culture.​

C. Build a specific past for the PC.​
1. Discuss any family background, taking note of any adventures connected with family members. . . .​
2.Discuss the early goals and activities of the PC.​
a. Adventures​
b.Schooling . . .​

4. Be clear about things the player wishes to keep secret. . . .​

Get clear any long or short-term goals each PC may have at the time the game begins. . . .​
Allow for any common goal or goals that might keep them together. . . .​
Based on the area and the PC group’s desires and stated goals, construct a variety of adventure options with which to start the campaign.​

What is missing is how to reconcile these two sets of instructions. Hence the the tension I mention in the thread title. What if a player's idea for family background, or schooling, clashes with a GM's ideas about cultures and NPCs? What if a player's desire for his PC has a religious or cosmological aspect that contradicts the GM's ideas about the gods and the cosmos?

There's also the practical problem of how to connect all the goals and secrets and the like the GM is invited to elicit from the players, with the variety of adventure options the GM is instructed to construct.

The text is simply silent on all of this.

This all seems to be advice for strong DM participation in both world building and making sure characters fit into the world.

First the DM does the numbers to create the world. Second under the letters the DM is advised to work with the players in creating their characters.

Under B "Based on the player's wishes, game needs, and the PC's race and profession, help choose an appropriate cultural background for the PC."

So if a character is a spirits of nature priest type concept and the DM has a dualist angels and demons good/evil only spirits cosmology it seems the DM explains how the specific character concept won't work but the DM should suggest what similar concepts in the cosmology would be.

The suggested discussion seems to be either "that sounds great, it can tie into X" or "That sounds great we will go with that" or "That won't work here because of Y".
 

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